India’s World – The Rohingya Refugee Crisis
The plight of the Rohingyas from Myanmar and Bangladesh is being described as Asia’s biggest mass exodus. The Rohingyas are minority Muslim community in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and they reside in Rakhine province of that country. After the major Buddhist-Rohingya riots in 2012 a large number of Rohingyas fled to the neighboring Bangladesh. Thousands who remained back became internally displaced and their properties were displaced and were chased out of their homes. They now live in crowded camps within Myanmar. Periodically they try and escape the inhuman conditions they are forced to live in and are facilitated by people smugglers. As in the past they have sought greener pastures in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. None of the countries want them now. Rohingyas are collectively dubbed as ‘boat people’ by the media.
The Rohingya people are considered ‘stateless entities’, as the Myanmar government has been refusing to recognise them as one of the ethnic groups of the country. There is no legal protection for them from the government of Myanmar. To escape the dire situation in Myanmar, the Rohingya try to illegally enter Southeast Asian states, begging for humanitarian support from potential host countries. The modern Burmese state is built upon the concept of Buddhist Burmese supremacy; this concept has been used by the military as a pretext for their rule. The Rohingya are not allowed to register their marriage and they are not allowed to have education.
Their condition is even when they travel to other countries. When the refugees arrive in Thailand and Malaysia, they are still at the mercy of traffickers, who detain them in jungle prisons and demand ransoms from friends and family. If they can pay, they are released, but if they cannot they are often killed. Thailand police discovered 24 bodies in the mountains of southern Thailand in May, believed to be the victims of smugglers. Most refugees that arrive in Thailand or Malaysia look to stay and get work and then send money home to their families. The refugees work in the fishing or farming industries and often don’t get paid or face dire working conditions. Those that have made out of Myanmar by boat face an uncertain future.
Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not possess a legislative and administrative framework to address refugee matters. Therefore, the inclusion of more Rohingya refugees would have further strained Malaysia’s domestic capacity to cope with illegal immigrants in the country.
Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to provide temporary shelter for the refugees in their respective countries for up to a year, after which the international community should assist to repatriate and resettle the refugee to a third country. The Rohingya refugee crisis also poses domestic challenges for Malaysia. The growing presence of Rohingya refugees could worsen the social, economic and political problems associated with illegal immigrants in Malaysia.
Atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state is being seen as a crime against humanity. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand had recently sparked growing international outrage by driving off boats overloaded with starving Rohingya as well as Bangladeshis. The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, believes at least 2,000 migrants may be stranded on boats off the Myanmar-Bangladesh coasts, held in horrific conditions for weeks by traffickers who are demanding that passengers pay to be released. The UN says the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar recognises them as citizens. In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, even the name Rohingya is taboo. Myanmar officials refer to the group as “Bengalis” and insist they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though most have lived in the country for generations.
Whatever be the solution, it really has to be a humanitarian approach, making sure lives are not lost and looking at temporary solutions in each of the affected countries – Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. The United States has asked the Myanmar to give full rights to the minority to help end the exodus. The temporary solution is a settlement arrangement for the asylum seekers and refugees who are coming to these countries. There has to be a mechanism and strategy at the regional level that allows countries of the ASEAn region to have an oversight on coordinated management. The approach might be slightly different in every country, but it has to be an overarching strategy. ASEAN has to put pressure on Burma in order to make changes to the lives of people in Rakhine state. This is a long-term strategy.